Next time, it’ll be ka-ching

I got the car serviced the other day. Perhaps unusually, when I went to pick it up, there was no multi-gazillion dollar bill waiting for me; just $197.

But the guy warned me about various symptoms that were evident but not critical yet that may lead to a higher bill the next time. (He sounded like the dentist, actually.) As per usual I just nodded my head and tried to pretend I knew what he was talking about. Front and rear roll stoppers cracked. Yup. Timing case seal leaking. Oooh. Front suspension bushes cracked. Yeah, they can be nasty.

So it sounds like it’ll be ka-ching next time.

Whenever next time is. I know services are meant to be about every six months or 10,000Ks, whichever comes first. But with my small amount of driving, it takes about a year and a half to rack up 10,000 kilometres, and it’s pretty hard trying to convince myself to go to the trouble and expense of a service more frequently. Maybe I should at least learn how to change the oil.

I’ll always need to drive sometimes (if only for my own sanity… PT and a bike just isn’t going to cut it for some trips, not from where I live). Is there a car out there that is reasonably cheap, clean and safe, and is better suited to occasional driving, and thus very occasional servicing? Something that doesn’t mind if it sits in the driveway six days a week?

Ideally the answer would be a shared car, but so far none of the companies (Flexicar and GoGet seem to be the most prominent in Melbourne; are there any others) have put cars into downtown Bentleigh. It’s probably a bit too suburban. (Unlike, say, Richmond — Beth has one parked virtually outside her house.) Indeed, there are car rental outlets that are closer than any of the car sharing locations, which could potentially work, but alas none within walking distance.

No, I guess I’ll just have to put up with the occasional ka-ching huge repair bill.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

15 replies on “Next time, it’ll be ka-ching”

Ha! I thought I was the only one. My car stopped the other day on a round-a-bout which was pretty embarressing by itself. Thankfully after some language that would make my mother cringe, the little Suzuki fired up and I was saved from having to push it off the road. Luckily there was a mates place only a minute away and I drove there as quickly as I could. After the smoke cleared and things had cooled down we had a look under the bonnet. Apperently there is supposed to be water in the radiator. And being able to take the bolts out of the head (top-bit-of-the-engine-thingy) with your fingers is a bad thing…

good points you make. It is a shame that when you leave your car in the driveway you are still paying registration, third party and insurance costs. And yet, you can’t have an accident, you can’t injure anyone, you aren’t taking up any space on the road and you aren’t damaging the road pavement.
I wish governments would reduce rego, third party and insurance costs and add them to the cost of petrol (you only use petrol when you drive the car).
Ps For 16 years, I have shared a car with someone – my wife!

VW Beetle, the old model but not clean nor safe by today’s standards. The repair costs for your car should be minimal compared to the cost of a new car.

Front and rear roll stoppers cracked, not to worry. Drive conservatively, as I am sure you do, and it is not going to need them.

Timing case seal leaking. Mechanics are always so optimistic that they can stop oil leaks. They seldom do.

I’d put the suspension bushes at the top of the list.

our mechanic always looks at our 16 year old Corolla and says “I can’t run enough of a business on Corollas, they never usually have much wrong with them”. Those are words one likes to hear from their mechanic. But seriously, Corollas old and new are fantastic, economical and a great reliable little car. Best car we’ve had by far. Good luck with your next service, hope it doesn’t cost a fortune.

Our Holden Astra only needs 12 months / 15kkm servicing. We get it done annually as we don’t drive that far that often. It’s never needed significant maintenance beyond the usual servicing, and it’s nearly 7 years old now.

Your car is aging to the point where it’s going to become increasingly uneconomic to repair it. Perhaps look at a hybrid? :)
Otherwise, can endorse Kate and Andrew’s Corolla suggestion.

I enjoy driving my friend’s one, but hybrids are too expensive, out of my price range. As Lorraine Sommerfield says, “I don’t need to run out and buy a hybrid car out of guilt. … I can certainly hang up the keys more often and probably achieve the same effect.”

Diesel Golf TDi. 900 + k’s on a tank. Servicing every 15k. Solidly built like most VW’s. I however prefer my 63 beetle as it is very cheap to repair (I do most of it myself).

Learning to change the oil yourself is a great idea as long as you have the right tools and somewhere to easily dispose of the old oil

Just buy a small car with a 4 or 5 star NCAP or EuroNCAP safety rating, and ESP. That’s not that easy if you also want it cheap and new, but I’d recommend a 5-7 year old Mercedes A160. That’ll be less than $20,000, has a 5-star crash rating and all models have ESP.

Servicing costs will not be ridiculous (parts won’t be more or less expensive than other makes’ parts – remember all makers seem to use bingo balls (and add zeros) to pick their parts prices). You’ll just need to use a mechanic who doesn’t double prices when they see a non-Japanese, non-Australian car come in the driveway. And change the oil yourself.

You will miss out on curtain airbags though, which is a shame but not surprising on a 7-year-old car. You would get them in a Renault Scenic (which I have), but then you miss out on ESP.

I agree with the above with the Corolla, but just take into account that your boys are growing and you want the three of you to be comfortable when in the car together, so make sure there is enough room in whichever car you decide on.
Oh, of course this means I also think it’s time to dump the one you have! It’s time to go smaller, more economical and better emissions. Good luck!
PS You know I used to have the same model as your current car – my replacement costs half in petrol! I know it’s also much better environmentally.

What’s to stop you from starting a car-sharing business in your area? From your post it sounds like there is a need for one.

Motivation. Capital. Time. Business nous. Those kinds of things :-)

Anyway I half suspect the existing companies are right… the market’s not quite there in my neighbourhood. When the next lot of apartments near the station are finished, then we’ll be getting there.

I like your phrase “tried to pretend to understand what they were saying.” (Like Bart saying I can’t promise to try but I’ll promise to try to try.) What happens if you try to pretend… and don’t quite pull it off? Have you then failed to pretend? Anyway, made me smile. Much more than the wince-inducing familiariaty of being spoken to by a mechanic. Like dentists and other professionals, they never prepare you for bad news, do they? “Your big end’s buggered, mate,” said my dentist (actually it might have been my mechanic) the other day, like he didn’t much care one way or the other. I suppose when you see bad teeth/cars all day, you probably don’t any more…

I personally wouldn’t worry that your car is only being serviced every 18 months if it takes you that long to do 10,000km – there aren’t many parts in a car that deteriorate with age (other than cosmetically) but plenty that deteriorate with mileage.

Maybe a good compromise would be once a year – that way your car at least does get some attention from a mechanic from time to time (preventative maintenance etc) but it stops you having your car serviced unnecessarily.

Oh, and changing your own oil is very easy, cheap, and also messy and annoying. You might as well get a mechanic to do it, as it would take them all of five minutes and they can check out other things on your car while they’re at it.

Here in South Australia cars 30 years and older (classics veteran etc) can get a special registration which means that you need to keep a log book and only drive said car 90 days of the year.

Perhaps a concerted citizen effort would see 104 days per year registrations to meet your and many other frugal drivers needs.

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